Open VISIONS Forum 10th anniversary lecture to be delivered by Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Philippe de Montebello


When Open VISIONS Forum premiered at Fairfield University in 1997, it was described as a provocative and inspiring lecture series with trendsetters in the worlds of art, film, literature, media and politics. It debuted with a lively program featuring Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Philippe de Montebello, who appropriately enough returns on Sunday, April 22 to give the 10th Anniversary Lecture of this distinguished and very popular lecture series of University College.

Mr. de Montebello is also celebrating another anniversary. This year marks the 30th year he has served as the director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is approached in size only by the Louvre in Paris. It also is one of the most significant and esteemed art museums in the world. Mr. de Montebello, the museum's eighth director, has served in the role of director longer than anyone else. 

He has been instrumental in acquiring masterpieces and prestigious collections, while overseeing acclaimed exhibitions and educational programs. Under his guidance, the Met has nearly doubled in size.

Philip Eliasoph, Ph. D., the director and moderator of Open VISIONS Forum, said, "The treasures of the Metropolitan Museum of Art speak to the hopes, dreams and triumphs of the human race. Behind those objects are fascinating, heartbreaking and suspenseful stories of many cultures and eras of history. Mr. de Montebello's talk will undoubtedly offer thought-provoking analysis and spark a passionate dialogue."  

Mr. de Montebello once wrote in The Wall Street Journal that museums can be defined quite literally "as the memory of mankind," explaining that they house integral parts of "our" history. "The fact is, in the rooms of our museums are preserved things that are far more than just pretty pictures. These works of art, embodying and expressing with graphic force the deeper aspirations of a time and place, are direct, primary evidence for the study and understanding of mankind."

He has described the Met this way: "Every conceivable peregrination is possible because the Met is a universal museum: every category of art in every known medium from every part of the world is represented here and thus available for contemplation or study - and not in isolation but in comparison with other times, other cultures, and other media." 

On the much-debated topic of looted antiquities, he has suggested that there is a need to re-examine patrimony laws that allow countries to prohibit the export of artwork deemed part of their national heritage. He said, "Can you imagine if every Rembrandt were in Holland and every Poussin in Paris? It is safe to diversify a stock portfolio; it is also safe to diversify the shared heritage of mankind."

The museum's two million works of art represent 5,000 years of world history, from every corner of the world.  His tenure has been marked by the Met reinstalling a significant portion of its permanent collections into refurbished galleries while tremendously expanding its exhibition space.

Mr. de Montebello was awarded The National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush, who said that by "promoting wide-reaching programs that bring art to the American people, he has helped to preserve, protect, and present the cultural and artistic heritage of our world."

Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan is the top tourist destination in New York City, with 5. 2 million annual visitors. Mr. de Montebello is also the familiar voice of the Metropolitan, guiding visitors through special exhibitions and installations with the narration on the audio tours.

As the Met entered the 21st Century, Mr. de Montebello has faced new challenges. As for a suggestion that web tours could replace actual museum visits, he has remained steadfast that one cannot visit museums on the Web. Works of art are meant to be seen live, he has said. 

For his endeavors, he has been awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur; the Order de Isabel la Catolica, the Spanish Institute Gold Medal Award; Knight Commander and the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great, among other honors. He received the Blerancourt Prize for contributing to the cultural bond between France and America.

The event takes place at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts and begins at 3 p.m. For tickets, visit www.quickcenter.com or call (203) 254-4010 or 1-877-ARTS-396. Ticket prices are $35; $30 for seniors. A reception hosted by the new Southport Village Inn and La Colline Verte at Southport Green will be held for patrons.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 9, 2007

Vol. 39, No. 202